If a friend or loved one comes to you to tell you they have been thinking about suicide, it can be difficult to know how to respond. Hearing that someone you care about has been struggling can be upsetting, frightening, and confusing. You might be worried about saying the wrong thing, or feel unsure of what steps you can take to support them. If someone in your life tells you that they are feeling suicidal, this means that they trust you and they are reaching out for support.
You don’t have to be a mental health expert to talk to someone about suicide and there are simple things you can do to help. You also do not have to take this on alone, and can speak to someone you trust about what’s going on, or contact a support service.
How to respond if a friend talks to you about feeling suicidal
If a friend tells you they are having suicidal thoughts, here are some things you can do:
Stay as calm as possible and support your friend without judging them. Sharing feelings of suicide can be frightening and the person telling you about their feelings may feel worried about your reaction. Avoid expressing anger or frustration as these feelings may prevent the person from sharing their experience with you. Instead, be patient, let them know they did the right thing in telling you and that you are able to sit with this news and listen to them.
Listen carefully to them in a non-judgmental way. Give them space to speak about what they’re going through at their own pace without you interrupting them. You do not have to have all the answers, but listening without judgement communicates that you care and acknowledge the person sharing as the expert of their own experience..
Let them know that you are present
Let them know that you are present and ready to help them or keep them company if they want you to. The way you respond to them supports them to feel understood and accepted.
Use phrases that validate their feelings to show you care for them. Here are some examples of phrases you can use:
- I’m worried about you and I want to help
- I understand that you’re in pain
- Whatever you are dealing with, you won’t have to go through it alone
- You have options and I can help you find the support you need
Some phrases can invalidate people’s feelings and these should be avoided. Here are some examples of phrases to avoid:
- Things could be much worse
- You have so much to live for
- Other people have bigger problems
- You have no reason to feel low
While these phrases might feel helpful at the time, they can often have the opposite effect of invalidating the other person’s feelings. If you don’t think you can avoid responding like this, or would struggle to respond sensitively, perhaps consider reaching out to others who can help you support your friend such as their family member, a mental health professional, a teacher, or another trusted friend.
Look after yourself
Providing support to someone else can be draining. It is important to mind yourself and be aware of your own mental wellbeing. Talking to someone about how you are feeling can help. You should be realistic about what support you can offer and try not to take on more than you have the capacity to take on. Do what you can to help, and reach out to others who can support your friend such as family members, mental health professionals, teachers or other trusted friends. If you’re working on your own mental health recovery, it might not be the right time for you to offer support to others. You can let them know you care for them and want to help but don’t feel like you’re able to give them the kind of support they deserve at this time. Validate them for reaching out and talking about their feelings about suicide and encourage them to share their feelings with someone else. You may be able to support them to identify another safe person in their life who they could share their feelings with.
Finding help for a friend who is suicidal
Even if your friend has asked you not to tell anyone about their thoughts of suicide, it’s important that you reach out to someone to help them get the support they deserve. Thoughts or plans of suicide should never be kept a secret. Depending on how severe your friend’s thoughts about suicide are, they may need a different level of support than you can provide them with.
Encourage them to access support
If your friend is thinking about suicide but doesn’t have any intention to act on their thoughts, encourage them to access mental health support. They may already be receiving mental health support and in this case, encourage them to link in with that support and share their thoughts of suicide there as well.
If your friend isn’t receiving any mental health support, it’s important that they speak with their GP who may be able to refer them to a more specialised mental health professional who can provide them with support. Continue to support your friend by checking in regularly with them and ensuring that their thoughts about suicide haven’t become more severe. You can also encourage them to access one of the support services listed below.
What to do in a suicide emergency
If your friend’s thoughts about suicide are severe and they feel unsafe, they should seek immediate support. If they’re currently accessing mental health support, ask them if they have a crisis plan or what kind of support they’d like from you. If you have access to transportation, you can take them to hospital yourself. If not, you can contact 999 and request an ambulance.
If you are under 18, it is essential that you tell an adult that you trust what has been going on for your friend, even if your friend tells you not to.
Suicide support services in Ireland
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, there are a number of suicide support services around the country that can help.
You can also call Pieta House at their free helpline (open 24/7) at 1800 247 247 to speak to someone. This service is open to anyone dealing with suicidal thoughts or self harm, and their family and friends.
You can also call Samaritans for free 24/7 at 116 123.
Support for young Travellers
If you are a young Traveller and would like to speak to a counsellor that works specifically with the Travelling community, the Traveller Counselling Service can support you. The service works from a culturally inclusive framework which respects Traveller culture, identity, values and norms and works from a perspective of culture centred counselling and psychotherapy. They offer counselling both in person and online.
- Landline: 01 868 5761
- Mobile: 086 308 1476
- Email: [email protected]
Feeling overwhelmed or want to talk to someone right now?
- Get anonymous support 24/7 with our text message support service
- Connect with a trained volunteer who will listen to you, and help you to move forward feeling better
- Text SPUNOUT to 50808 to begin
- Find out more about our text message support service